Old-school Star Wars
May 6, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to watch the non-special versions of the original Star Wars movies? Is it worth getting the laserdiscs?

My wife is obsessed with Star Wars, but like a lot of fans, hates the special editions and prequels. She had an old VHS box set that she watched all the time, but our VCR doesn't work anymore. I got the idea in my head that it would be awesome to surprise her for her birthday with the original trilogy. I like Star Wars well enough, but I don't have the childhood connection to it (my first exposure was the special editions). She loves it, on the other hand, and she's the kind of person who never buys anything for herself. She'd love this.

Googling around, I discovered the 2006 DVDs with the special and original editions. I also see that a lot of fans don't like this version because it's not anamorphic widescreen.

Then I came across this AskMe thread, and wondered if I should go all out and get a laserdisc player. Since the 2006 DVDs seem to go for $80+ on ebay and Amazon, that's not a far cry from ~$100 for a used laserdisc player and box set. If I'm going to do this, I may as well go all in.

So I guess my questions are:

1. Would there be much appreciable difference between the DVD and laserdisc versions?
2. What does non-anamorphic mean, exactly? Does it just mean that you need to press the "zoom" button on your remote (and presumably get sightly worse video quality)? How would that compare to the laserdisc experience?
3. Would there be any problem connecting a laserdisc player to our newish HDTV? It has HDMI, component, and composite inputs.
4. The most readily available laserdisc version seems to be the 1993 Definitive Collection. What's the difference between it and the 1995 version?
5. If I were to buy a used laserdisc player, what should I look for? Certain brands/models that hold up over time?
6. Is there an easier way to do this that I'm not thinking of? I browsed around on fanedit.org, and unless I'm mistaken, all the fan recreations are essentially working backward from the special edition, right?

I'm not much of an AV geek, so I hope my questions make sense. Thanks a lot.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
2. What does non-anamorphic mean, exactly? Does it just mean that you need to press the "zoom" button on your remote (and presumably get sightly worse video quality)?

Yes, the image has the black bars on top and bottom permanently embedded (the image coming from the DVD is 4:3). I have the DVD's and played them on an upconverting DVD player onto an HDTV and "zoomed" in. The image isn't optimal but it's watchable.

3. Would there be any problem connecting a laserdisc player to our newish HDTV? It has HDMI, component, and composite inputs.

From a quick search, the LD players I saw have either RCA outputs or S-Video. You'll have to double-check to see if your HDTV has these inputs. In general, it's my understanding that most or all LD players out there will outdate HDMI and component.

My biggest misgivings about getting a laserdisc player would be the age of the (presumably) used player that you buy, the lack of tech support, and the likelihood that it will break or die, whereas DVD's are playable on brand new machines.
posted by puritycontrol at 8:33 AM on May 6, 2012

1. If you mean video/audio quality, then yes. The LD version will be tuned for an older generation of home theater equipment and may look not as nice on newer stuff. But unless either of you are big hi-fi snobs, this is probably not a big deal. If you mean editing, I can't say.

2. "Anamorphic" means "higher picture quality, but you have to mess with the zoom button".

3. Probably not.

5. They all have moving parts. Your best shot is finding a local store that deals in used hi-fi, but in the age of internet gee-whizmos, that may be tricky if you're not near a large city.

Getting the laserdisc setup is hugely romantic. I bought an LD player a while back, because I am a hoarder and a bad person, and getting up to flip the disc over halfway through the movie tickles me in just the right spot - I feel like I'm nine years old.

Getting the DVDs is infinitely more practical. For example, you could rip them for playback on a laptop.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:38 AM on May 6, 2012

I don't know what your attitude toward ahem, alternative means of acquiring such things, but I think that Harmy's Despecialized Edit is what you are looking for.

Original trilogy.
Original version.

That is all.
posted by THAT William Mize at 8:50 AM on May 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

I may be missing something but since she already has them on vhs (and I would guess other films too) why not get her a vcr? You can get a dvd/vcr combo for under $100. You can make it clear you got them to enable her to watch SW.
posted by biffa at 8:51 AM on May 6, 2012

(My answer to #2 is misleading - exactly what goes on here depends to some extent on your TV, which you didn't describe. But generally, anamorphic DVD has a better picture. As puritycontrol says, for a non-anamorphic widescreen DVD, the black bars of the letterbox are burned into the disc. An anamorphic DVD uses that same space to store more of the original picture instead, and then your DVD player or TV set generate those black bars during playback.)

It's worth noting here that laserdiscs also come in anamorphic and non-anamorphic varieties.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:53 AM on May 6, 2012

Harmy's Despecialized edition is pretty awesome, but not 100% non-SE. There are definitely some scenes/bits that don't belong.
posted by misterbrandt at 8:54 AM on May 6, 2012

@MisterBrandt: I didn't know that!
I would think, that comparatively speaking, the DE has less sins to account for than any of Lucas' current versions.
posted by THAT William Mize at 9:03 AM on May 6, 2012

I have a huge screen (17 feet) and projector tv set-up and the laser discs look fine to me.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:21 AM on May 6, 2012

I've found that the laser disc resolution is incredible inferior to even non-anamorphic DVD.
posted by Che boludo! at 9:58 AM on May 6, 2012

I recently dug my LD player out and hooked it up to the system. I remember it looking pretty close to DVD when they first came out, but now it looks like garbage. Modern TVs aren't optimized for an analog signal like laserdiscs anymore.
That, and even sitting in storage, the player has been falling apart. The rubber disc clamp is rotting, the audio processing board is on its way out, and the laser alignment is off.

I used to love my LD collection, now I'm just going to save a few disc jackets for framing and put the rest in the trash.
posted by hwyengr at 2:58 PM on May 6, 2012

FWIW, the original versions prints on the 2006 DVDs are identical to the laserdisc prints. Yes, the laserdisc would fill the entire width of your screen, but the DVDs have better initial resolution, which, yes, you would lose a bit of when you zoomed in to screen width.

IMO the DVDs win out over the LDs if only for the convenience factor, as in I have several ways to play DVDs but my laserdisc player is in a closet somewhere, and it may not even work anymore.
posted by Devoidoid at 8:10 PM on May 6, 2012

Hwyengr makes a good point. LD will look like crap on a modern HD plasma, LED or LCD screen. If you have a big old Trinitron CRT, though, go nuts.
posted by Devoidoid at 8:12 PM on May 6, 2012

posted by anonymous My wife is obsessed with Star Wars, but like a lot of fans, hates the special editions and prequels.

So certain are you? Show her in this order, you should.
posted by mattdidthat at 8:37 PM on May 6, 2012

Personally, I rock the pre-special edition VHS tapes.
I also acquired via the usual means rips of the laser disc versions.

If you have a CRT, or you are old enough, a bit of fuzz isn't going to other you too much. I leant mine to a friend who wanted to show his kid, and there were minimal complaints, and they have the biggest TV known to humanity.

It won't be as crisp as a DVD/Blue-Ray, but Han WILL Shoot first.
posted by Mezentian at 4:33 AM on May 7, 2012

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